Both parents and spouses can be guilty of a habit that undermines relationships. That is the habit of speaking up only to point out what’s wrong while letting good behaviors pass without comment. We all need to take responsibility for making our families an encouraging place to be. No relationship can thrive in an atmosphere of criticism. In fact criticism is so destructive that John Gottman dubbed it one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – major destroyers of relationships.

The antidote to a pattern of critical interaction is a pattern of compliments. In a vacuum that might be hard to imagine. So to put yourself into the right mindset, try imagining that this is your partner’s last day on earth. Now assume that, even though you know this, you have to spend that last day doing the usual routine: work, cooking, cleaning, study. Whatever that looks like for you on a normal weekday.

What tends to happen when we put ourselves into that mental outlook is that we see everything with fresh eyes and a heart of gratitude. Suddenly, the ordinary looks miraculous, as Emily experiences in “Our Town” when she asks, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”

Try to watch your mate today with those eyes. Write down five specific things you notice them doing which you are grateful for. Then, tell them one each day for the next five days. Any spouse will appreciate the encouragement. But one with Words of Affirmation as a primary Love Language, will be especially blessed by this positive interaction. They will light up.

If your mate reacts with suspicion to this exercise, then it is a signal that communication has been in negative territory for some time. It would be a good idea to sit down and have a discussion about your communication as a couple.

About “Today’s Positive Interaction”

John Gottman, the leading researcher on couple interaction, has proven the power of positive interactions. In our classes, we teach couples to strive for a 20:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions. The most vibrant couples are at that level or higher. Recognizing that some people need concrete examples to learn from, I started our Tuesday series, “Today’s Positive Interaction.”

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4 Responses to If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…

  1. Hunt says:

    Wife swapping is unethical in my opinion

  2. Nicole says:

    Wonderful article! This really puts that old saying into perspective. I think our society and culture is Over programed to catch the negatives and we need to train ourselves to think differently. If we did things with the end goal/picture in mind, what kind of legacy would we leave for our family?

    Last night we watched Celebrity Wife Swap and at the end of the experience they get to debrief each other on the experience and “encourage” changes. Rather then using the technique of a gentle start or positive comment, the ladies jumped right in to conflict. That made great TV ratings. I wish everyone could recieve the training I experienced 4 years ago about finding 3-5 positive/grateful things to say before being constructive. The most powerful thing to building relationships is praise and appreciation!

  3. Jami says:

    I can be critical – especially in our parenting. I try not to present critically, but sometimes that is what happens…and then I have to apologize.
    I got a taste of my own medicine the other day when our one-year-old was watching her older siblings while standing next to me on a chair at the kitchen table. I had an arm around her, but got distracted and she inched away – right into the space between my husband and I’s chairs. Luckily, we each grabbed a limb and saved her from a bruising, but the look he shot me, along with a small comment, was all it took to realize how terrible it feels to be criticized on how you care for your children. Sorry honey – lesson learned.

  4. KT says:

    This is great!

    A few weeks ago I was together with my son for his birthday. He is a grown man now and I don’t see him as often as I would like to. I gave him a card and when he read it, it brought tears to his eyes. At first this made me pleased that I has written from my heart and had “spoken” in a way that touched his. But that feeling changed as a new awareness set in: I was filling a deficit, not topping off a full container.

    My son would be quick to say that we have a wonderful relationship and that I have been a good dad, but so what? Perhaps the standard is higher for fathers in that the need is so great. I can do more. I can “realize life while I live it.” We all can.

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